Dec 27, 2014

Review: The Borrowers (2011)

I've been waiting on seeing this version of The Borrowers for some time after having gone through the lot of adaptations some months ago. This is a Christmas-themed version put out by BBC, so I had no choice but to wait until December. With a couple of notables like Christopher Eccleston and Stephen Fry, it couldn't be all that bad right?

The 1997 version of Mary Norton's novel was a childhood favourite of mine. Watching it now made me realize that it isn't quite as good as I remember it being, but it still has its moments. The cast is of particular interest. The 1973 version from The Hallmark Channel has aged horribly and that leaves us with Studio Ghibli's The Secret World of Arrietty. Although it doesn't measure up to other SG productions, it's a really nice effort and is definitely the best adaptation at the moment. Can Tom Harper find a way to best it?


Genre: comedy, family, fantasy
Directed by: Tom Harper
Produced by: Radford Neville, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, etc.
Written by: Ben Vanstone
Music by: Philip Miller
Running time: 90 minutes
Production company: Working Title Television Production, Moonlighting Films, British Broadcasting Corporation
Distributed by: British Broadcasting Corporation, American Broadcasting Company, Sky Cinema
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Budget: N/A
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry

Starring: Aisling Loftus, Charlie Hiscock, Robert Sheehan, Stephen Fry, Christopher Eccleston, Sharon Horgan, Victoria Wood, Shaun Dooley, Anne Hirsch, Warona Seane, Jane Hill, Jonathan Blake, Catherine Burns



Sixteen year-old Arrietty Clock (Aisling Loftus) lives under the floorboards of a house in London with her parents Pod (Christopher Eccleston) and Homily (Sharon Horgan). They're a family of borrowers, tiny people who "borrow" items from human "beans" to get by. Tired of always being cooped up at home, Arrietty sneaks out one night to explore. She's discovered by young James (Charlie Hiscock) who fortunately befriends her. However, James' grandmother (Victoria Wood) discovers what's going on, forcing the Clocks to flee into the sewers.


Although The Borrowers is a fantasy movie, I couldn't help but feel that believability was pushed just a little too hard at times. In particular, the house in which the Clocks live in has a cat and knowing cats, it would be after them night and day. It would hear the Clocks moving around under the floorboards and then pounce once they left cover. It's just very difficult for me to believe that this cat hasn't been able to get Pod Clock after all these years.

You also have to wonder how dumb Arrietty can be to not put any effort into not being seen when she sneaks out that night. She's been taught all her life to avoid human beans even. She literally waltzes into James' room and is spotted in a second. Other Borrowers movies at least had Arrietty sneaking in and getting spotted against her better judgement. I guess we should also not consider all the noise she made as she was scaling up the stairs of the house, which would've certainly attracted the cat's attention. Maybe I'm just thinking a little bit too hard here, but I still think my disbelief could've been suspended better.

In general, the story feels pretty rushed to fit into its 90 minute time slot and that especially impacts the more dramatic bits. Drama comes off more as melodrama and tension is pretty lacking as well. You never really feel that anyone is in any danger except for one scene (Spoilers) which is when Arrietty and Spiller rescue Pod and Homily from the lab. (End Spoilers) Everything else is pretty flat and unexciting unfortunately.

The comedy also doesn't really deliver all that much, but it's not awful either I suppose. One scene I really do have to outline as being terrible is the slow motion walk scene after Arrietty buys her brand new clothes from the Underground and feels all attractive. These kinds of scenes either work or they don't. This one doesn't.

Most of the humour that works comes courtesy of Stephen Fry who plays the bumbling Professor Mildeye. He aims to prove the existence of Homo sapiens redactus, or little people. It does seem that he's just trotted out to be funny, but he generally does a good job. The same can't be said for his assistant Jenny (Anne Hirsch) though who is irritatingly stupid.

One of the biggest problems of The Borrowers comes down to the main actress unfortunately. Aisling Loftus as Arrietty really got on my nerves. I think it mostly comes down to her over-expressiveness due to being ignorant and never really seeing the world beyond her home under the floorboards. Her eyes are continually wide open along with her mouth which just gets annoying. She also doesn't look sixteen. Her budding relationship with Spiller is also pretty poor. (Spoilers) They spend most of the movie jawing at one another before doing a complete 180 in a very rushed scene on board James' remote control airplane. It's just not believable in any way. (End Spoilers)

I understand that The Borrowers is a TV movie, but the effects are pretty weak in certain areas. I'd say that it's about on the same level as what the 1997 version was able to conjure up, maybe even a little worse. All the same, you can tell that some sets were built and in that regard it's not bad. Effects aren't everything, but for a movie like this a little more quality would've helped its cause.

The Borrowers isn't an awful movie by any means, but it is pretty disappointing. It comes off as very rushed which in turn hurts the story quite a bit. Humour is lacking and tension is pretty far from taut. I'm also sorry to say that Aisling Loftus doesn't make for a very good Arrietty which is a pretty big problem since she has the most important role. TB won't make for bad Christmas entertainment, but there are better Borrower movies out there.



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